At the Republican National Convention and elsewhere during this election season, the Republicans’ principal attack against President Obama is that he hasn’t fixed the economy or significantly lowered the unemployment rate. The Democrats have failed effectively to call the Republicans out for not lifting a finger to work with them and with President Obama to solve these economic issues.
The story is a simple and compelling one for the Democrats, if they would only tell it:
1. George W. Bush and the Republicans crashed the economy, plunging us into a recession in 2007 and 2008, which lasted into the first half of 2009.
Further evidence of this fact could been seen this past week, as photos of the December 2008 irreversible idling of General Motors’ Janesville, Wisconsin auto plant surfaced. That was just over one month after Willard Mitt Romney published his op-ed entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
2. Republicans held a secret meeting the night of President Obama’s inauguration, where they schemed to torpedo any of Obama’s efforts to get us out of the Bush recession, in order to try to get re-elected. This Republican meeting included Congressman and now Romney running mate Paul Ryan.
And here’s the third point that you never hear:
3. The Constitution doesn’t let presidents fix the economy alone.
Under the Constitution, presidents don’t have much power over the U.S. economy. You may be surprised by that, given the cult of the Presidency that the media and others, including George “I’m the decider” Bush, have built up. In fact, it’s clear from the Constitution that the American people, via their representatives in Congress, are supposed to decide the economic agenda of the country. Thus, Congressional powers include, among others, the power:
- To originate all bills for raising Revenue (Art. 1 Sec. 7);
- To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;
- To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
- To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
- To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
- To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
- To declare war;
- To raise and support Armies; and
- To provide and maintain a Navy (all Article 1 Sec. 8).
The President, as “executive,” is supposed to execute (i.e., carry out) those things that Congress decides, or veto them if he or she thinks they are bad ideas. Indeed, the very first section of the Constitution, Article I, describes the powers of Congress, and Article II lays out the powers of the President, not the other way around. Remember from your early education that our Founding Fathers, in reaction to the tyrannical Kings of England, generally wanted the Presidency to be a relatively weaker position, i.e., a co-equal partnership with Congress and the Judicial Branch.
In reaction to Republican intransigence toward President Obama, some leading Democrats charged the Republicans with being “the party of ‘no’.” But that was way back in 2009. When those charges didn’t work in the 2010 elections in the face of Republican lies about the Affordable Care Act, the Democrats seemed to give up. That opened the door to Republicans arguing that President Obama hasn’t fixed the economy himself.
There isn’t much time left before the 2012 election. It may be too late. But if the Democrats don’t at least try to tell voters that President Obama can’t fix the economy without help from Republicans in Congress, and try to hold the Republicans accountable for cynically refusing to help, the Democrats might needlessly lose another election.